Published: April 16, 2020

The University of Colorado Board of Regents received updates on COVID-19 and its impact on university operations and state and university budgets on Thursday, April 16.

In a special virtual meeting, the board heard a presentation from President Mark Kennedy on the university’s response to COVID-19. University of Colorado Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Todd Saliman reviewed the next steps in the state budget process and the allocation of federal funds. He discussed when campuses will likely have sufficient data to consider their next steps in setting the budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Kennedy opened the meeting by reporting that state revenue is expected to be down, federal stimulus and relief funds will help fill the holes and the state will determine the distribution of many of those funds, with some funds allocated directly to each campus for distribution directly to students. Kennedy explained that the disbursement of federal funds will be vitally important to all of higher education in the state of Colorado.

“We continue to work hard on federal stimulus and relief funds, which we hope to fill the holes,” Kennedy said. “As you know, we sent a joint letter to the federal delegation from all of the public and private universities, making sure they understand our needs and what we need to keep the fires of higher education burning in Colorado.

“In many cases, the state will determine the distribution of those federal funds, and in some cases, it comes more directly,” said Kennedy. “But we continue to work very closely with our federal delegation, with the state, with our fellow universities, because this will be vitally important in terms of understanding the position we are all in.”

Decision-making in May

Kennedy emphasized that the university will not have sufficient data for the campuses to consider specific budget-balancing options until around mid-May, after the state budget is more clearly defined and the allocations of federal funds are better understood.

Saliman added more details on the state budget process later in the meeting, sharing that his office is tracking the state budget process very closely.

“[The legislature] will begin meeting in May, and in the beginning to middle of May, we are going to have a new state revenue and expenditure forecast from the office of Legislative Council,” Saliman said.

“The joint budget committee will use that to balance their budget. By then we will hopefully know not just how much federal funding is available but also what it can be spent on.”

Saliman reiterated that Kennedy has been working with the federal team and state delegation in order to make sure that the state has flexibility with those federal funds so they can be used to help fill state budget gaps, and that the flexibility for the state to use the funds how they see fit is key to what budget-balancing options the campuses will need to consider.

Saliman also shared that his office has been working with higher education colleagues throughout the state to present state legislators and other leaders with “an idea of the magnitude of the impact for higher education in Colorado.”

“The initial look indicates that it’s going to be significant,” Saliman said. “We are pulling that information together so policymakers can make informed decisions and hopefully understand the degree to which higher education is facing challenges from multiple directions in a way that is more significant than was the case during past recessions.”

Saliman added that the university will have better information about state and federal funds and exactly how the university is being impacted by the middle of May, and that the chancellors, the president and the CFOs are discussing how quickly they can put together information for the board once they receive it.

“Once we have that information, it’s going to trigger a lot of decision making,” said Saliman.

Auxiliary furloughs

Kennedy said that “small pockets of furloughs” in auxiliary units across the university’s campuses are being considered. He explained that because these units deliver services to the university community and are funded directly with fees for those services, they face more near-term budget-balancing needs.

“Auxiliary units are dependent on their own revenue stream,” Kennedy said. “To the extent that it has ceased, we are going to need to do furloughs, but we would love to have those people back as soon as we are physically able to continue those activities. It’s for this reason that we are working so hard to do everything we can to be back up and running in the fall if at all possible.”

Fall 2020

Kennedy addressed the topic of the fall 2020 semester. Decisions about fall 2020 will depend on guidance from public health and the state of Colorado; how building access can be controlled if needed; and what physical distancing guidelines remain in effect and how they may impact residence halls, dining facilities and classrooms.

“These are just some of the many variables that are being considered at each campus [with CU system leadership], and we’ve already commenced a regular dialogue so all of our four campuses are working together on a coordinated approach,” said Kennedy. “This is not something that will come to a conclusion until later.”

Kennedy concluded the meeting by saying that the university is also focused on the long-term impacts and outcomes.

“How do we come out of this even stronger than we went in?”